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Currently, there are more than 2 million people incarcerated in our nation’s prison and jail system. This is a 500% increase over the last 40 years (The Sentencing Project).
As a result, there is a growing need for qualified medical professionals that are capable and willing to work with this underserved population.
While not the right specialty for every nurse, those that pursue a career in this alternative healthcare environment will receive a host of benefits not available in more traditional settings.
Keep reading to learn more about the advantages of a correctional nursing career and to determine if this path is the right fit for you.
Correctional Nursing Benefits
1. Autonomous Practice
Correctional nurses are the face of healthcare within the corrections environment. In many cases, they serve as the gatekeeper to physicians and other medical services. From an initial assessment of a patient’s needs to developing a treatment plan (in consultation with a doctor), nurses are the primary (and sometimes only) healthcare provider that patients will have access to.
Therefore, correctional nursing provides clinicians with an opportunity to utilize the full range of their clinical expertise to support the health and safety of the inmates. No other specialty allows nurses to function as autonomously as correctional nursing.
Why You’ll Love It: Correctional nursing is an opportunity to utilize your knowledge, skills and nursing license to the fullest extent possible.
In traditional healthcare settings, nurses are expected to strictly adhere to a structure or a routine.
However, in a correctional healthcare setting, nurses have the opportunity to manage many more variables throughout their work day.
For instance, in one day, a correctional nurse may treat a patient with acute injuries, a patient that is trying to manage a long-term illness and a patient that is just returning from surgery. The ability to think quickly and be flexible is paramount.
Nurses that are looking to gain a variety of experience quickly will have the opportunity in a correctional healthcare setting.
Why You’ll Love It: Correctional nursing is an opportunity to gain a wide variety of experience very quickly.
3. Strict Focus on Patient Care
According to many correctional nurses, a major difference between correctional and traditional healthcare settings is the natural emotional limitations between the patient and the caregiver.
For multiple reasons, correctional nurses are encouraged to not develop personal relationships with inmates.
While different from traditional healthcare settings, this approach allows nurses to focus strictly on the patient’s condition and treatment plan. This does not mean that the nurse does not have compassion and empathy for the inmate’s medical concerns. However, it does mean that conversations are strictly limited to medical discussions to ensure that biases and personal opinions do not influence the quality of care.
Why You’ll Love It: Correctional nursing allows you to focus exclusively on the delivery of exceptional patient care.
4. Rewarding Accomplishments
Nurses in correctional healthcare settings have the opportunity to be present for an inmate’s entire healthcare journey. From diagnosis to cure (or stabilization in the case of chronic conditions), a correctional nurse is there to assist and advocate for the patient’s medical needs.
Unlike traditional healthcare settings where the patient moves onto the care of a specialist or primary care physician, correctional nurses are there for it all.
Many nurses that have made the transition to corrections from traditional practice settings find this aspect of the job especially rewarding.
Furthermore, for some inmates, the correctional nurse will be the first clinician that consistently and routinely advocates for their well being.
Why You’ll Love It: Correctional nursing is an opportunity to assist a patient at every step in their healthcare journey.
Healthcare professionals always question the safety of the correctional healthcare environment.
Despite the uncertainty around working with a population that has a criminal background, recent studies have shown that more violence occurs within private healthcare settings than correctional healthcare settings.
Furthermore, to ensure the safety of healthcare professionals within the facility, strict operational guidelines and protocols are always adhered to.
For instance, the clinician is provide with a secure location to work in and armed guards are present for the duration of the visit.
Correctional nurses generally experience fewer “surprises” throughout their day when compared with nurses in traditional healthcare settings.
Why You’ll Love It: Correctional nursing places a high emphasis on clinician safety.
Like every job, being a correctional nurse has its benefits and downfalls. Overall, it is an interesting healthcare profession and there is something new to learn with a different, rewarding experience each day.
Additional Correctional Nursing Resources
- American Correctional Nurses Association
- Essential of Correctional Nursing
- National Commission on Correctional Health Care
- Nursing Behind Bars: Putting the Patient Before the Prisoner
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Explore additional resources from Premier Medical Staffing Services:
10 Exceptional Phone Interview Tips
A Day in the Life of a Correctional Nurse
How to Prepare for a Correctional Nursing Interview
Top 10 Correctional Nursing Skills
Your Nursing Resume: The Five Do’s and Don’ts
Last Modified:by Katy Konkel